Reading Land’s Accelerationism Through Marx’s Labor Theory of Value
Excellent piece on accelerationism by Nick Land has been published by Urbanomics, “A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism.”
I think Land’s article is a “must read’ if you want to understand the thinking behind the idea of accelerationism. But more than this, I think Land makes a good case for why you have to be familiar with his ideas if you call yourself a communist.
Accelerationism is not a term accelerationists gave their ideas. Rather, it was a derogatory name given to them by their critics, like the name, “Nigger”, was given to black people by their slave-owners. In place of the term “accelerationists”, you can simply substitute the term, “niggers”, and thus treat them in the fashion Noys intended.
But to understand the thinking behind accelerationism, I would suggest you substitute the term, “capital”, for the term accelerationism. Once you do this, you realize almost immediately why, as Land asserts, there is no such thing as Right or Left accelerationism. Capital has no political identity; rather, it determines all political relations within bourgeois society. As an idea separate from capital itself, accelerationism is simply a description of the characteristics of capital.
I hope to show why this is true by taking several statements Land makes in his article and restating them as in terms familiar to those who have read Marx. You may find more appropriate passages from Marx that agree or contradict Land’s argument.
Please do not hesitate to post them in the comments.
Accelerating accumulation as the definition of capital
LAND STATEMENT 1:
“Among [accelerationism’s] predictions is the expectation that you’ll be too slow to deal with it coherently.”
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, …” Communist Manifesto
Capital as a process headed to a final crisis
LAND STATEMENT 2:
“[The] deep problem of acceleration is transcendental [that] describes an absolute horizon – and one that is closing in.”
“As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. The surplus labour of the mass has ceased to be the condition for the development of general wealth, just as the non-labour of the few, for the development of the general powers of the human head. With that, production based on exchange value breaks down, and the direct, material production process is stripped of the form of penury and antithesis.” Grundrisse.
Capital cannot be controlled
LAND STATEMENT 3:
“[Events] increasingly just happen. They seem ever more out of control, even to a traumatic extent.”
“This is law for capitalist production, imposed by incessant revolutions in the methods of production themselves, by the depreciation of existing capital always bound up with them, by the general competitive struggle and the need to improve production and expand its scale merely as a means of self-preservation and under penalty of ruin. The market must, therefore, be continually extended, so that its interrelations and the conditions regulating them assume more and more the form of a natural law working independently of the producer, and become ever more uncontrollable.” Capital, v3, ch15
Capital as destructive of all existing social relations
LAND STATEMENT 4:
“Because it appeals to nothing beyond itself, it is inherently nihilistic. It has no conceivable meaning beside self-amplification.”
“The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers.” Capital, v3, ch15.
Capital as indifferent to all concerns except its own self-expansion
LAND STATEMENT 5:
“It grows in order to grow. Mankind is its temporary host, not its master. Its only purpose is itself.”
“It must never be forgotten that the production of this surplus-value — and the reconversion of a portion of it into capital, or the accumulation, forms an integrate part of this production of surplus-value — is the immediate purpose and compelling motive of capitalist production. It will never do, therefore, to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, namely as production whose immediate purpose is enjoyment or the manufacture of the means of enjoyment for the capitalist.” Capital, v3, ch15
Capital as a critique of all existing relations
LAND STATEMENT 6:
“The process is the critique, feeding back into itself, as it escalates. The only way forward is through, which means further in.”
“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society.” Communist Manifesto.
Capital as an inherently self-destructive process
LAND STATEMENT 7:
“The auto-destruction of capitalism is what capitalism is.”
“The means — unconditional development of the productive forces of society — comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.” Capital, v3, ch15
Capital as a continuous process
LAND STATEMENT 8:
“Runaway consumes its identity. Every other determination is shucked-off as an accident, at some stage of its intensification process.”
“If capital is sent abroad, this is not done because it absolutely could not be applied at home, but because it can be employed at a higher rate of profit in a foreign country.” Capital, v3, ch15
Capital as a historically limited mode of production
LAND STATEMENT 9:
“To be rushed by the phenomenon, to the point of terminal institutional paralysis, is the phenomenon.”
“The rate of profit, i.e., the relative increment of capital, is above all important to all new offshoots of capital seeking to find an independent place for themselves. And as soon as formation of capital were to fall into the hands of a few established big capitals, for which the mass of profit compensates for the falling rate of profit, the vital flame of production would be altogether extinguished. It would die out.” Capital, v3, ch15
I chose here a few passages from Land that immediately struck me for their similarity to Marx’s own argument. You may feel the fit is not be perfect and, perhaps, even Land himself may feel they do not completely apply. Land seems to go from Kant and arrive at Nietzsche, while it is generally held that Marxists go from Hegel and arrive at Marx. This different trajectory in the two schools, labor theory and nihilism, might explain why Land appears to rhyme with Marx, rather than repeat him.
In any case, I think I have shown that there is enough meat on these bones to suggest Land’s ideas should be examined by anyone calling themselves a Marxist. And, please, don’t come at me about Land’s association with the so-called alt-Right. Personally, I don’t give a fuck what Land’s personal politics are, nor what you think of his politics. I only want to kill capitalism. If Land’s insights help us to do this, and in so far as they do, I am with Land; as Marx was with Ricardo.
If any student out there wants a subject for her doctoral thesis, you could do worse than mapping Land’s argument to Marx’s labor theory.